Sugar traders accused of profiteering
BELLA CARIASO, BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO AND JOSE JAVIER ISMAEL
The Manila Times
THE United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines (Unifed) on Wednesday accused traders of trying to maximize their profits amid reports that the retail price of refined sugar remains high at P100 per kilo in some markets in Metro Manila. In a radio interview, Unifed President Manuel Lamata said that according to a survey conducted by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), there is enough supply in the country with an inventory of 134,000 metric tons and 143 MT of raw and refined sugar. “First, the assessment of no shortage of sugar is correct. In fact, based on the survey commissioned by the SRA, there are many stocks of sugar, belying the earlier claim of ex-SRA administrator Hermenegildo Serafica,” he said. Lamata added that the traders continue to dictate the prices causing the high retail prices in markets. “Moving forward, the cause of high sugar prices is very simple. If we have a lot of sugar, this only means traders are maximizing profit as they know the new harvest is coming in and the imported sugar is also coming in, they know that the prices will eventually go down,” Lamata added. Based on the daily price monitoring of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the retail price of refined sugar at the Marikina Public Market reached as high as P106 per kilo; P105 per kilo in Muñoz Market and P100 per kilo in Mega Q Mart in Quezon City, and Quinta Market and San Andres in Manila. Lamata also supported the statement of Acting SRA Administrator David John Thaddeus Alba that the prices of sugar will stabilize between P70 and P80 per kilo starting November with the expected delivery of 150,000 MT of imported sugar. He also welcomed the release of sugar stocks in the warehouses, which had been covered by the raids. “If you go to the wet markets, you can see that there is enough supply. The traders cannot hoard the stocks, but their new game is to maximize the profit all the time while the ordinary people suffer,” he added. At the same time, Lamata confirmed that the mill gate price of sugar is pegged at P60 per kilo due to high production cost. “Our mill gate reached P60 from the P38 to P46 per kilo. This was due to the high cost of fuel and fertilizer. From P25, diesel ranges from P80 to P85 per liter while from P700, the fertilizer is almost P5,000 per sack. This does not only affect the sugar production but the whole agriculture sector, including rice and corn,” he added. Lamata stressed that the retail prices of refined sugar should range between P85 and P90 per kilo. “The P100 per kilo is too much. Rest assured by October to November, prices of sugar will go down. Traders cannot prevent it, so it’s guaranteed to go down,” he added. Sen. Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros has renewed her warning that there is “an actual — and not just anticipated — sugar shortage.” The senator on Wednesday urged the government to act swiftly to avoid soaring food prices and the loss of livelihood of sugar industry workers around the country. Hontiveros on Tuesday evening interpellated Sen. Francis Tolentino, chairman of the Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, regarding its findings, which cleared former executive secretary Victor Rodriguez of any responsibility in the controversy. The panel, also known as the blue ribbon committee, has recommended the filing of criminal and smuggling charges against suspended Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian, former SRA chief Hermenegildo Serafica, and former SRA board members Roland Beltran and Aurelio Gerardo Valderrama Jr. Hontiveros reiterated her position that there is enough proof showing that Sebastian, Serafica, Beltran and Valderrama “acted in good faith” when they signed the controversial Sugar Order 4 allowing the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar. She said public documents show that government officials were already flagging the limited supply of refined sugar and the inability of current stocks to meet domestic demand as early as April this year. “By April 8, 2022, the National Economic Development Authority already flagged the limited supply and high prices of refined sugar, and declared that domestic production of refined sugar is not enough to meet the local demand,” she said. “This letter was in response to a request for comments on the letter of Coca-Cola highlighting the company’s supply gap of 116,000 metric tons,” the minority senator said. “Kabuhayan ng mga kababayan natin ang nakasalalay dito (The livelihoods of our fellowmen are at stake here),” Hontiveros said. She noted that Coca Cola’s plants in Davao, Cavite, Zamboanga, Camarines Sur, Bohol and Iloilo were shut down due to the sugar shortage. She also pointed out that in a June 7 meeting in Malacañang, the Economic Development Cabinet Cluster had recommended to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. the importation of 450,000 MT of sugar from Thailand and Brazil. The cluster, Hontiveros said, also revealed that the country “is still facing a supply deficit of 74,000 metric tons of raw sugar even if these imports are fully made.” The senator clarified that she obtained the April 2022 NEDA letter, as well as other documents, only after the BRC hearings on the sugar fiasco had already concluded. “I’m presenting this to the Senate plenary, since in any case, it is public interest, and the public’s right to know should prevail,” Hontiveros said. “It is extremely important to remove any cloud of doubt that there is, in fact, an actual — and not just anticipated — but an actual shortage in the supply of sugar. There is so much at stake. We have to act swiftly,” she stressed. “The disproportionately punitive actions against career civil servants like former Undersecretary Sebastian would only discourage officials from acting with dispatch on issues as critical as prices and supply of important household commodities, ‘’ she said. Protect farmers Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri underscored the need to protect the farmers saying that the real issue in the sugar importation fiasco are the farmers. Zubiri said the investigation was able to establish that any sugar importation is detrimental to the livelihood of over 100,000 farmers, 1 million beneficiaries, including farm workers and about 5 million people. “We have to put it in proper perspective. We, the Senate, have in the past investigated things of lesser action. Here is a situation, wherein over-eager members of the SRA immediately wanted to go for importation when there was clearly no instruction from the President, usurping his authority by signing on his behalf,” Zubiri said. He reiterated his stand to let end-users like Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola and Zesto import sugar if they were unable to source locally, instead of letting SRA look for the importers.